Deceased Profs and OER Use

You may have noticed a recent media hubbub around a learner’s (legitimate!) reaction upon realizing that their “favourite new teacher” had been deceased for over a year. It appeared on the Chronicle and in Slate before @cogdog covered the situation with nuance and insight.

The deceased prof taught at Concordia University and the course is hosted by eConcordia (ConU’s online branch, which is less profit-averse). As far as I know, the content carries no open license. However, ConU’s Library Services Fund is currently being used to develop, adopt, and modify OERs (particularly textbooks).

The reason I find it relevant is that there’s a strong connection in people’s minds between content and teaching. As we all know in the OER sphere, there’s a lot of potential when we use open content (hello David) to open up our practices… and disembodied content is merely a part of the overall OER equation.

So I’m posting this as a kind of “message in a bottle”… and I’m thinking about proposing an #oeweek activity around use of deceased profs’ teaching legacy.
Anyone interested?


Thanks Alex for finding your way here, and I think this would make an excellent discussion for #OEweek.

In addition to the issues of ownership and the phrase “disembodied content” is compelling there are also issues of content creators in establishing conditions to have their content sustained after they have gone to that Great OER Space in Some Sky.

This is the kind of activity we are hoping to offer from OEG Connect – we have a dedicated space there, and if it’s okay, I will move this topic in there).

You can use an OEG Connect space as the location entered when adding an activity.

This could be done in several /multiple ways:

  • Completely as an activity to contribute to any ways via discussions here
  • Suggest a scheduled date/time during OEWeek when people are invited to “swarm” on the discussions, to have a conversation start at a designated time, like twitter chat style
  • Could also be done as a twitter chat
  • Plan some synchronous session of that’s a preference

Let’s do this!

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FWIW my piece in this:

(Yes, you can move this topic to the dedicated space. I just didn’t want to be presumptuous in my first post. For the record, I registered before hearing of Ansuini’s interest in Gagnon’s teaching. By the way, given Gagnon’s reputation among students, it sounds like it wouldn’t be completely inappropriate if Concordia created a legacy prize in his honour.)

A rough overview for an activity I had in mind for #oeweek , based on this topic:

  • Identify three audiovisual resources which were initially created by teachers/instructors/profs/lecturers/pedagogues who have since passed away
  • Explain how you would integrate them in a realistic and practical course context
  • Surface the advantages of having such material available as OERs
  • Assess the risks associated with opening up these resources
  • Extend the model (benefits and risks) to existing resources by living teachers

I’m clumsily trying to distinguish the OER pattern from: “find an old text by an important author in your field and imagine it’s a required reading in your course”. Plus, I think the audiovisual aspect makes a difference when it becomes the voice and/or effigy of someone who (recently) disappeared.

This could be done via any of the modalities you mention, @cogdog.

Personally, I’d find an “annotation flash mob” quite appropriate. Say, a dedicated group in where people tag appropriate resources with clear mentions of the context of use. One timeslot early in the week to unleash the flashmob, further activities on an OEG space to integrate these resources during the week, and a synchronous chat at the end to dig deeper into the consequences.

We leave the choice of how to structure up to you, but I think it’s fantastic, original and Beyond The Usual OER Stuff.

You are welcome to make a home for it as a new topic in this “DO” area of Connect, and use its URL as a reference when submitting as an activity in the main site.

I’m super excited about this and will do everything possible to promote it.

A relevant situation came up this week in the CCCOER discussion group:

I’ve run into a Creative Commons roadblock and need some advice. I recently spoke to several faculty who are using the Public Speaking Project for their courses. They like it very much but it was last updated in 2013 and I think most of the book chapters were written well before then. These faculty observed that a lot has changed in our society’s practices and expectations in public discourse over the last five years and the material is starting to feel dated. They also expressed interest in working together on a revision.

I contacted the institution where the project originated and found the the project’s author is deceased and the project’s copyright status is now tied up in her estate settlement.

I would love to see this resource updated so it can continue to serve its purpose for years to come. Any ideas on how that might happen? Although the chapters were written by different people, each chapter is CC BY-NC-ND. I’ve thought of contacting the chapter authors and asking them to revise their work and give the revision a more generous license. I think some of them are retired and may not want to take this on.

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Agreed! Very relevant.

IANALawyer (and I’m not CC-certified, yet), so I don’t know about the legal implications and loopholes. Sounds like this case could help us build a template on “OER succession planning” or even this kind of “when I die, I want my authentication keys to go through such and such an OER trust…”. Also goes well with the concept of pedagogical legacy!

As I’m new to Connect (and OEG), I have no idea how many people with a legal background are here. (Does Michael Geist still take an interest in OER?)
It sounds like a straightforward question with potentially-convoluted answers…

In terms of pedagogical usage, I perceive a couple of workarounds.

One is to go the annotation route (do we have friends from around?), making sure that it doesn’t violate the ND. There’s something fitting when you transform pedagogical material into something more like historical documentation, with new interpretations. While it could be difficult to teach a heavily-annotated text, it’s also a great way to deepen learning, develop critical thinking, put things in context…

A similar approach would be to develop ancillary material which extends the original work. Would be more comfortable for learners but it’d also keep them passive.

A third approach would be to start a new project and (deep)link to chapters or even individual sections, with appropriate framing. A bit like a “Reader”. Of course, it’d be way easier if the material had been available in other formats than PDFs. Yet it might still be doable to target specific parts in the text.

In all three cases, an idea would be to “scaffold” around the existing material and eventually get a true Open Textbook with proper licensing and formatting for further use.

Asking chapter authors to come back to their work could work really well in some cases and be near-impossible in others. There might even be legal implications given the packaging of PSP as a single textbook. Yet it could serve as a model for other projects.

At any rate, it sure is an interesting case which could help frame the activity, along with the Concordia Art History one.


Thought we could use the hashtag #OE2021vfb to tag videos from deceased professors and adding comments on how we would integrate each item in class. We can do this through and/or social media platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter. And/or right here so we can #oeweek:oeweek-do together.

My first example is a short video from Michael Silverstein, who passed away last Summer. He has been a very influential scholar in Linguistic Anthropology, though many of his texts are deemed obscure. Hearing his voice in a short video, including some words “in non-English” might have more impact on learners than reading a 25-page text, depending on the context.
Were this video an actual Open Educational Resource, I’d skip the musical track and remix SIlverstein’s voice with those of learners who could describe ways they became interested in understanding language in new ways. I’d prepare an activity at the end of the first class meeting with a followup the next class meeting and perhaps launching into diverse projects (such as Hip Hop-style quotations and such).

I’m not going to click a like button here or a cute :heart: , I am just going to say it. I like this a lot, thanks for stirring up the pot.

Now to go scouting for some dead profs…

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Glad you like it!
I find a low effort activity might pay off.

During the week, I’ll try to nudge people in different ways.

It’s probably easiest to find profs who died recently. Although, I have plenty of examples from music learning which are quite dated. Music learners (including wellknown YouTubers) are often pretty adept at surfacing lectures from people who died a while back.

A second “Voices from Beyond” item from me, centred on the value of hearing famous composer & conductor Leonard Bernstein deliver those famous lectures at a famous university.

Part of this little #OE2021vfb exercise makes me think about the glorification of certain voices. (Potentially related to Canadian sociologist of science Robert King Merton’s Matthew Effect.) If we want Open Education to open up to diverse voices, it might make sense to address such issues dead-on. Hearing Bernstein’s actual voice is important… in US-centric contexts. Remixing his voice, as famous US-based YouTuber Adam Neely did, might both contribute to bringing that voice to The Canon and allow for more of the Hip Hop mindset to take hold (h/t Brian Foo).

Very interesting thread. I support the idea of recognizing the work of deceased teachers who contributed with open educational resources and open courses.

I find 2 interesting questions to discuss in the first post:

The deceased prof taught at Concordia University and the course is hosted by eConcordia (ConU’s online branch, which is less profit-averse). As far as I know, the content carries no open license. However, ConU’s Library Services Fund is currently being used to develop, adopt, and modify OERs(particularly textbooks).

1- that some colleges may have courses and materials on e-learning programs that remain for years, are these being reviewed or updated? A lot of these may remain relevant, others not as much.
2- who “fights” for the owner rights of deceased OER creators. Here is where I find very interesting the idea of somehow make visible these resources in memory of their creators.

This topic reminded me of a talk in a Design conference I attended a couple years ago. It was called “After Life UX” and raised the question of how do tech companies such as social media sites treat content and activities after users died. They made interviews to people with dead relatives and their relation trough tech, and found interesting revelations. I found the article they made after the conference if you want to check it (it is in Spanish, perhaps google translate can help):

I don’t know of any online OER of deceased professors that I remember. Though there are couple of them I remember fondly because of their teaching and charisma.

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Thanks for the After Life UX link! It does

Since the canvas is in image form, it’s harder to get automated translation. Yet the overall context is sufficient to make this inspiring.

As for this little activity, my notion is that we can tag videos which weren’t released as OER, trying to figure out what would happen if they had been. So, if you think of a charismatic teacher who was captured on video, that could be very relevant. According to the original case, Gagnon’s attitude was sufficiently embedded in his video content that it still has an impact on those who watch that content. Maybe this is where OER production can do more than commercial publishers. Living content from personable teachers.

Whether you want to call him a professor, I have used Kurt Vonnegut’s short “The Shape of Stories” in every presentation about storytelling and in every media class I have taught. In his delivery (using of all things a chalkboard) he deploys elements of storytelling- building suspense, suspending belief, and a wee bit of misdirection.

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I’ve had some interest here, maybe not as much in social media, but if you run your own web sites and domains, what happens to them after your death?

I’ve had some conversations with my friend at Reclaim Hosting wishing this was some kind of service you could set up in advance. I have thought (but not sat down to organize) some documentation for my family for where the accounts are (also, domain registrations). I’d like to leave a fund that would keep them going for a few years at least.

I just keep putting it off :frowning:

I am reminded of at least two colleagues. Derek Miller was a fantastic Vancouver photographer and teacher of photography I met at the Northern Voice conferences n the mid 2000s.

He blogged his way through his losing fight with cancer, but set things up so his blog and last post are still there at

Here it is. I’m dead, and this is my last post to my blog. In advance, I asked that once my body finally shut down from the punishments of my cancer, then my family and friends publish this prepared message I wrote—the first part of the process of turning this from an active website to an archive.

Another colleague, Keith Lyons from Australia, I knew only from blog comments, twitter, and crossing paths in open online courses. I came across a mention a year or so ago that he had passed away, but his work is kept going by his family.

We probably put this off as it feels “morbid” but it will happen. And I would hate, not for vanity, but just because it’s my now 26+ years of web making, to see it all vanish because someone is not paying a server bill.

Also, I am reminded of the inspirational teaching talk, do every lecture like it was your last, by Randy Pausch

who actually gave his last lecture in 2007


Useful example. Wonder how we’d adapt it had it been shared with open licenses.

As for calling people profs, that’s an important question to keep in mind. Vonnegut certainly helped quite a few people develop their competencies. There are professors whose teaching might not have been as effective. (Ok, that sounds harsher than it’s meant to be. Yet I think there are academics who would admit that they haven’t thought that much about learnng. It sounds like Vonnegut did.)